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Lights, camera ... action? Sabres hope to provide some as Winter Classic filming begins

The appeal of behind-the-scenes shows like "Road to the Winter Classic" is fans get a look at athletes' lives. The grimaces are front and center. The fun pops off the screen and into the viewers' living rooms.

There are a lot more grimaces than fun in Buffalo as filming of the series gets underway. It's not the ideal time to put recording devices near the Buffalo Sabres.

"I don't think we all necessarily would go out asking for it," defenseman Jake McCabe said with a pained chuckle Wednesday.

Nonetheless, cameras and microphones for NBCSN were conspicuous as the NHL began tracking the Sabres' road to the Winter Classic on Jan. 1 in New York. Crew members filmed practice and put their recording devices over the glass, picking up conversations and coaches' instructions.

It was essentially an all-business workout, which is expected when a team is 6-15-4 and 1-7-2 in the last 10.

"Hopefully," right wing Kyle Okposo said, "we can turn it around and have some better days so we can kind of show our fans a different side of us."

NBCSN officially announced the seventh season of "Road to the Winter Classic" on Wednesday night. The four-part series will air at 11:30 p.m. on three consecutive Wednesdays: Dec. 13, 20 and 27. The finale will be Jan. 7, immediately following the broadcast of a Pittsburgh-Boston game.

In preparation, film crews will essentially become part of the team for the Sabres and New York Rangers, who will face off New Year's Day in Citi Field.

"It's something that's not necessarily a distraction," McCabe said. "It's something that takes getting used to, I guess you'd say. For the most part it's a cool look for the fans."

Sabres unveil jerseys for 2018 Winter Classic

When the Sabres hosted the original Winter Classic in 2008, there were few ancillary events. As the game grew, the NHL and HBO teamed up for three seasons of "Road to the Winter Classic." The documentary series was on EPIX the past three years and is moving to NBCSN this time.

"It's a great way to sell the game to our fans and our community and represent our organization in the best fashion," Sabres coach Phil Housley said.

Housley is one of the few Sabres familiar with filming. Showtime produced "All Access: Quest for the Stanley Cup" in the spring as Housley and Nashville played for the trophy.

"It's just getting used to the people that are around you," Housley said. "That's going to be an adjustment for a lot of players in there, then it becomes second nature. You don't even know that they're in the room."

Sabres defenseman Nathan Beaulieu agrees. The Montreal Canadiens produce a reality series titled "24CH," and cameras are in the dressing room and on the road nonstop.

"We had three cameras in our room at all times," said Beaulieu, who spent five seasons with the Canadiens. "This is a different crew than I had in Montreal, but they've done it forever. They've done 'Hard Knocks' and they've been around football players, so they really know their boundaries and they don't cross the line at all.

"One of the camera guys that would follow us around was really close with the guys. We'd take him out for dinner and stuff, so he was just one of the guys. For me, it's not weird, but for some guys that aren't used to it, they might watch what they say."

New York Rangers unveil jerseys for Winter Classic against the Sabres

When the NHL series was aired on pay television, profanities were allowed. Now that it will be on basic cable, it will be PG programming. Swear words will be edited out, but some players still might act different and bite their tongues anyway.

"You have to," McCabe said. "There's cameras in your face. I'm not going to start swearing in front of the camera. You've got to watch what you say, but at the same time some guys are going to be featured more than others. You just kind of go about your business as you would normally."

It's a given the show will feature bigger names such as Jack Eichel, Jason Pominville and Ryan O'Reilly. They'll probably be part of other commercial projects, too. The Winter Classic's title sponsor, Bridgestone, is in town to film ads.

Pominville looking forward to coming full circle for another Winter Classic

Okposo was featured on "NHL Revealed" on NBCSN in 2014 when he played in an outdoor game for the New York Islanders. He was about to become a father for the first time, and cameras filmed him leaving practice, heading home and to the hospital.

"I'm a pretty private person, so for them to film such a huge event in my life was a little bit much for me," Okposo said. "But it was a great experience. It's something that my family is going to have forever, and my daughter will have that forever.

"It's always cool when you watch those shows. It gives a little insight to the fans on our day-to-day lives."

At the moment, the Sabres' professional lives won't make for uplifting television.

"Maybe it will spark us," Housley said optimistically. "We've got people in the trenches with us in our locker room. Maybe it will spark us and provide some really solid efforts moving forward."

Sabres' Housley trying to dial up hot line, changes forward units

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